Fundamental lessons which we can all learn from the bus strike (Singapore) Against the backdrop of the now famous bus strike, there have been efforts undertaken by the following parties: The Singapore Government calling on all parties to voice their grievances through the appropriate channels and a flurry of measures adopted by SMRT in response to public and government sentiment. Whilst the reactions and actions undertaken after the strike are laudable, one can’t help but express concern that the underlying issues of wages, worker’s living conditions and a clear lack of communication channels between all relevant parties have surfaced only via the drastic action of a strike. Indeed, all parties involved have to clearly reflect on the events of the past week and do their utmost to prevent future occurrences of such incidents.
Complacency setting in
Citing how strikes would affect workforce productivity and deter potential investors, the Singapore Government has long taken a dim view towards strikes and strikes have been few and far between throughout the annals of Singapore’s history. This has and still must be the key driving policy: A zero tolerance towards illegal strikes. In an attempt to maintain the welfare of general workers in Singapore, the National Union Trade Congress, businesses and National Employer’s Federation had been established. Tripartism was vaunted as the the way to progress and to cultivate the symbiotic relationship between businesses, employers and employees.
Indeed, the system of tripartism saw much success till the early 2000’s where there were troubling signs of complacency setting in and cracks slowly but surely emerging from the system. This was further compounded by the fact that there was a massive influx of foreign workers as the Government sought to open its doors to foreigners to maximize economic growth.
It would be naïve to conceive that the strikes were one-off actions or actions taken by an irrational group of foreign workers. Conversely, it is clear that the issues stemming from the strike ie. low wages, poor living conditions, lack of proper communication channels between businesses and employees alongside with an inability to manage the influx of foreign workers were long drawn. Therefore, it is illustrative that complacency had long set in between the relevant parties and the event of a strike or any forms of dramatic action were only a matter of time.
An overall reflection
Whilst I am in unequivocal agreement that a firm stance should be undertaken against the workers for taking the law into their own hands, there must be similar punishments meted out to SMRT as well for failing to take into account the welfare of its foreign workers and to serve as a strong deterrent for businesses not to mistreat its workers.
When profits should not be at all costs
It has been a long accepted norm in Singapore that a company should be primarily judged on its financial performance and has a responsibility to its multitude of stakeholders for fulfilling that responsibility. Nonetheless, the profit at all costs model has come under siege and this is inherently inferred from none other than SMRT. Relationship between grow at all costs and severe ramifications Admittedly, it would be an uphill task to draw a direct co-relationship between pursuing profits at all costs and the recent spate of events that had besieged SMRT. Having said that, one can look no further than how the incidents of trains breaking down due to inadequate maintenance and the recent uproar over wages of workers seem to connote some conclusions about a continual focus on increasing profit margins each quarter.
Statistics have shown that the under the tenure of then SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa, profits at SMRT had saw a steady increase quarter after quarter and everyone (from savvy investors, government and the general public) were duly impressed. However, the aftermath of the slew of incidents that have occurred (MRTs breaking down due to improper maintenance / lack of empathy for staff as evident by the strike) suggested that all was not well in the quest for grow and profit at all costs. How SMRT should not get away with a mere slap on the wrist
It is indicative that all is not well at SMRT. There is a clear lack of communication between its staff, the upper echelons of the organization and a lack of distinctive and definitive direction being undertaken. Clearly, SMRT needs a wake-up call and the onus is on the Government to adopt a hardline stance against the company. Whilst some commentators have suggested heavy fines, I am of the belief that more drastic measures needs to be undertaken in the form of the government stepping in to perform the role of the company or possible suspensions in operations of the firm if the need arises. There would inevitably be some trade -offs in the form of services being affected in the short term but it would send a strong message to SMRT to step up or be replaced entirely either by the government or in the form of another private company.
Aftermath of the strike
In sum, the recent strike has revealed the stress points of tripartism and the relevant parties would do well to address them to prevent such a scenario from happening in the foreseeable future. With swift action being undertaken against the perpetrators of the strike, one can’t help but wonder whether SMRT should similarly be punished or be allowed to get away scot free?